An executive budget such as John Kasich unveiled earlier this month amounts to the first pass in a lengthy process. A close examination of the details typically exposes flaws or oversights that require legislative adjustments. The dismay that has greeted details of the governor’s two-year budget for primary and secondary education across the state hints at the retooling still to come with regard to the “Achievement Everywhere” school-funding plan.
Among the issues that have come to the fore is funding for school transportation. A major expense for both suburban and rural districts, transportation also has become more costly for urban districts obligated to transport students to private and charter schools as state law has expanded school options. As reported Monday by Beacon Journal staff writer Dave Scott, the budget proposes no increase in the next two years in the school transportation budget, which currently is $442 million. Further, there was no provision this year, nor is there any proposed in the next two years, for state funding to replace aging buses (compared to an average of $16 million a year the past decade).
Flat-funding might be manageable if the factors driving transportation costs were stable. They are not. Fuel costs have climbed sharply during the past decade. The average price of diesel fuel has gone up 140 percent since 2004 while state funding for school transportation has increased a mere 5.2 percent over the same period.
In districts like the Akron Public Schools with a growing population of students in voucher program and charter schools, buses are transporting more students and driving about three times as many miles as they did a decade ago. The Akron district spends roughly $1.2 million on fuel.
Getting students to and from school safely is an essential service. Factor in the wear and tear on the fleet, the cost of fuel, maintenance, repairs and the replacement of aging buses, and districts must scramble for other sources to make up for the shortfall in state funding for a required service.
The governor’s education policy team has explained that in the absence of up-to-date data, it considered it most appropriate to hold the line on funding for transportation. If so, the lag in accurate information suggests a need to improve methods of projecting the expenses districts are likely to encounter, so as to enhance general confidence in the budget-making process. It is encouraging the administration has indicated it expects to revisit transportation funding. It is imperative. As it is, school districts are justifiably skeptical that the budget as proposed takes into full account all that is necessary to provide a good education.